Japan is giving out mixed messages regarding asylum seekers. At the Tokyo G7 Annual Summit less than two weeks ago, Japan was part of the call for the international community to help support Europe as it copes with the refugee crisis. Yet Japan has a dismal record of granting refugee status to asylum seekers, accepting only about 0.2 percent of the applicants for asylum. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe added to the confusion by announcing changes to Japan’s approach to foreign workers. According to the Wall Street Journal, Japan will streamline the bureaucracy that processes foreigners’ applications for work permits. In addition, greater numbers of foreign students will be able to remain in Japan to work after completing their studies than currently allowed.
Asylum seekers are not being offered similar considerations. According to Al Jazeera, out of 7,586 asylum seekers in 2015, Japan accepted only 27. The great majority of refugees were from Nepal, with small numbers from Afghanistan, Syria, Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka.
While they wait for their applications to be processed, asylum seekers do not have many rights in Japan. In a new video uploaded today, BBC Japan Correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes shows us the inside of the refugee center. According to Wingfield-Hayes, 300 asylum seekers who have committed no crimes are currently being held. They are kept in prison-like cells for up to 15 hours a day. He spoke with a Kurdish refugee from Turkey who spent one-and-a-half years in the detention center and can remain in Japan now only because he is married to a Japanese woman.
“Every day they told me I was going to be deported. They said, ‘Don’t build up any hopes. It’s better you go home voluntarily. But if you don’t, we will deport you.’ For me, it was no different from Guantanamo Bay. When refugees are detained in Japan, it’s the same as prison. They may not physically beat you, but they bully you mentally every day.”
An Iraqi refugee awaiting word of his status told Wingfield-Hayes that he is not allowed work, or to even have a cellphone. He believes that Japan tries to cause asylum seekers to leave Japan by denying them their human rights.
You can see the video by clicking on the tweet below.
Why does Japan accept so few refugees? - Japan doesn't really have an excuse for this https://t.co/Vbuld6HD6b— Thinking Japlish (@ThinkingJaplish) June 8, 2016
Japan’s abysmal record of accepting asylum seekers is ironic in view of the fact that Tokyo was the site of the G7 annual summit that took place on May 26-27. The panel of world leaders expressed the overwhelming need for providing assistance to refugees, a phenomenon now challenging global resources. European Union (EU) President Donald Tusk asked for solidarity with Europe, as European countries are faced with coping with the great bulk of the refugee crisis.
“If we [G7] do not take the lead in managing this crisis, nobody else will. I will appeal to G7 leaders to take up this challenge.”
According to Al Jazeera, Japan approved an economic relief package of $350 million for Iraqi and Syrian refugees. At the same time, Prime Minister Abe clearly states that Japan must take care of its own citizens before it considers the needs of asylum seekers within its borders. Japan must take care of its elderly and its women. He also emphasized that efforts should be made to increase the birth rate in Japan in order to combat the negative impact of an aging population.
Business Insider explains that Japan has no history of multiculturalism, as do nations in North America and Europe. That makes it difficult for Japanese society to accept either asylum seekers or foreign workers among them. Given that skilled and professional labor are required in Japan, it may be time for the Japanese to change how they regard the asylum seekers who reach their shores.
[Image via Pixabay]